Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FWST: Tony Romo showing signs of shaping up.


Anybody who thinks Jason Garrett is incapable of dropping the hammer on one of his "boys" is so wrong.

So 180-degrees wrong, as recent events demonstrate.

Word from Valley Ranch is he had a come-to-Jesus meeting with QB Tony Romo this off-season where he basically told him to get his butt in better shape.

Now nobody is accusing Romo of being Val Kilmer, or even Byron Leftwich. The description used was "bottom heavy" and the message was more "We love you but ... " than butt kicking. What The Redheaded Genius told him was, basically, become a better finisher.

Cowboys coaches believe Romo has a penchant for showing up for training camp in just good enough shape to allow him to get out to a good start in the first half. And it falls apart in the second half because he does. He is not able to outrun the same players. His mistakes go up. He is not the same QB.

And they need that QB to win games in December and beyond. It is that simple.

The question was how Romo would react considering how, at times, he has a tendency to say crazy things like, "I’m OK if I never win a Super Bowl," when facing criticism. This leads many, yours truly included, to wonder if he understands exactly what is expected.

Worry no more. Or at least worry less.

Romo is showing signs this off-season that he not only gets it but he is willing to do anything and everything to fix it. He certainly said all the right things Monday.

He used Coach Wade’s off-season extravaganza as a platform to reassure a wobbly Cowboy faithful that he recognizes his weaknesses and he has been working on them.

"I don’t know why you wouldn’t look at yourself from an honest perspective every time you go into the off-season and say, 'What do I need to do?’ Back in February, when we started going at this thing, you look at tape, you look at yourself and you say, 'What did I not do successful or what hurt me this season when I was out on the football field?’ You have to be really harsh sometimes on yourself, and you ask questions from people you trust."

Give Romo his due. Self-flagellation is hard.

It is not easy to look at yourself and say, "I was wretched at this," especially when you have a guaranteed contract, a famous girlfriend and a scapegoat-in-waiting in Wade. It would have been so easy for him to blow off what The RHG said; instead, he tackled it.

The truth is nobody was hurt more by the exit of former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells than Romo. He needed a guy staying on him, not because he is lazy but rather because he responds to that kind of coaching. It obviously is not Coach Wade’s thing, so it was imperative that he had somebody willing to be brutally honest with him.

It did not have to be harsh. But it had to be said.

The conditioning thing is key, too, because it gets to the heart of the problem with the offense. It wasn’t that they were bad. They just weren’t consistently good. The drop-off was especially evident in December, despite whatever statistic Coach Wade has to dispute this.

Anybody who watched the Cowboys knows it, and Romo is trying to fix it.

"One was to be the same in September as you are in December as an individual and as a team," Romo said of his conditioning goals. "I know, specifically, it’s hard when your body is beat down on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from the game to continue to do certain things. But I think that cleaning and squatting [in weight room] is a very important side of this and noticed it starts to waver as the season goes on as your body gets hurt — you get a sprained ankle, you have this, your hand is broken, your finger, whatever it is.

"It’s difficult to continue to do certain things. But if you can maintain it and somehow you can keep yourself in a position where it’s still the same as it was then at the end, I think that will help us and help me as the season progresses."

He didn’t say it, but I will. If Big Bill or The Jimster were here, it would not be a debate. Guys would be cleaning and jerking and squatting or else. I can practically hear Bill snarkily saying, "I guess Romo is too big-time now to lift weights."

Neither is here, though, so it is on the players to police themselves. This is how it is with a kinder, gentler coach. The leadership has to come from the locker room. And that is what we are seeing with Romo. He is embracing the leadership role more than he ever has, by saying whatever he said to help convince Owner Jones to dump T.O. and by addressing his own flaws.

One of the reasons guys say T.O. had such a following in the locker room, especially on defense, is because guys were sick of getting their butts kicked publicly while guys like Romo and The RHG were given a free pass despite obvious flaws of their own.

Acknowledging those flaws goes a long way to re-establishing his locker-room credibility. Fixing them when it counts will go a long way to saving a lot of butts at Valley Ranch.